Far from Home, Part 2: Dance to the Music

This is part 2 in a series about my time in residential treatment. Part 1 is here.

The schedule at TK was very similar each day. The only thing that varied was the content of the groups. There were multiple groups that met at the same time each day, and I picked the groups I wanted to attend with the guidance of my therapist.

Here’s the basic schedule for my lodge: 

7:00 a.m.: Breakfast
8:30 a.m.: Morning commitments (We had small groups in the lodge, and each morning we had to check in with our current mood and goals for the day. It wasn’t at all awkward or uncomfortable to rate my depression on a scale of 1 to 10 in a room full of other women, haha.)
9:00 a.m.: Group therapy
10:00 a.m.: Break (for phone calls, snacks, meetings with therapist or psychiatrist, etc.)
11:00  a.m.: Group therapy
Noon: Lunch
1:30 p.m.: Community meeting (entire lodge met to talk about any announcements, concerns, issues)
2:00 p.m.: Group therapy
3:00 p.m.: Break
4:00 p.m.: Group therapy
5:00 p.m.: Dinner
7:15 p.m.: Group therapy
9:00 p.m.: Mindfulness (A staff member led us in various activities meant to help us focus on the present/be mindful) 

The first group I went to at TK was called Dance Movement Therapy. When I saw this on the schedule, I immediately balked and was tempted to skip it. The interesting thing about TK and something that distinguishes residential treatment from inpatient treatment is that no one makes you go to any of the groups or activities. You could theoretically sleep all day (and some residents did that, much to my deep confusion–that’s an awfully expensive way to get in some naps). However, I’m a rule follower and schedule freak at heart, so the thought of skipping the very first group didn’t sit well with me, so off I went, not knowing what in the world I was getting myself into. 

There’s not really a good way to describe Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), except to tell you what it’s not. It’s not Zumba or Jazzercise or any kind of choreographed dance. The class is basically all about connecting the body with the mind and showing that through movement. There were 2 therapists for the session, and they played different kinds of music for us while we expressed ourselves through various movements, walking around the room, skipping, twirling, or really whatever we wanted to do. Some of it was guided movement, but a lot of it was independent. The point of DMT is to be content with your body and allow it to move in a way that is comfortable to you. That meant some people hardly moved at all but instead sat quietly, while others danced freely all around the whole room. I fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, not wanting to make too much of a spectacle of myself but also not able to resist the way the music spoke to me and made me want to move. Even though I felt ridiculous doing some of the things we did, it was also very freeing. I was in a safe space where no one was judging what I was doing, and no one was really even watching what I was doing because everyone was doing her own thing. I love music, and I found it very soothing to let myself get lost in the rhythms of the songs and move the way I felt like moving. I probably looked clumsy and awkward and completely unskilled, but I didn’t care, and neither did anyone else.  (If this all sounds a little kooky to you or like the dumbest thing in the world, I understand. I would feel the same way if I hadn’t experienced it firsthand.)

Towards the end of our time in the group, the lead therapist had us all find individual spaces in the room to retreat and be quiet. She put on soft music and instructed us to relax and let our minds and bodies simply respond to the words she was going to say. She named off two words I don’t remember, and then she said the word “belonging,” and I felt the tears spring to my eyes. Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face, and I knew that the word had touched a point of pain in my heart. I have often struggled with feeling like I don’t belong and have wanted desperately to find a place of belonging, and there in that room I was free to admit that to myself and tell myself that wanting that was a natural thing. I prayed that God would help me know that I belonged–heart, mind, body, and soul–to Him, even if all else was in question. I left that group feeling lighter than when I came, and DMT cemented itself as my very favorite group at TK. I still give myself time at home to dance around to music that makes me feel happy and confident. I don’t worry about what I look like or how much space I’m taking up or how ugly or fat I feel; I dance, and I feel free and loved. And for those few minutes, that’s enough. 

Some songs that make me happy (it’s a very eclectic list):

“Calling Me Home” by Emily Brimlow
“Almost (Sweet Music)” by Hozier
“joy.” by For King and Country
“123” by Jess Glynne
“Love Broke Thru” by TobyMac
“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors
“God Is Enough” by Lecrae
“Like We Belong” by GAWVI
“Hard Love” by Needtobreathe
“Let It Rain (Is There Anybody)” by Crowder
“Love Me Again” by John Newman
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
“Holy” by Jamila Woods
“Glorious Day” by Passion

Far from Home, Part 1: Why I Went to a Residential Treatment Facility for Depression

I have wanted to write about my time at Timberline Knolls, but I haven’t even known where to begin. Being away from home for 4 weeks to live with 30 other women with mental health problems is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and there wasn’t a day when I was there that I didn’t question what in the world I was doing. However, I know that going was worthwhile. I know that going probably saved my life. And I know that going changed me. There is much that happened, much that I want to tell, but also much that I will keep to myself. 

So here are bits and pieces of my experience at a residential facility, where I received intensive treatment for recurrent, treatment-resistant major depressive disorder

My decision to go to a residential facility actually began while I was still inpatient (for the second time) at a mental hospital in Memphis. I was there for nine days and was miserable the whole time. The only bright spot was my therapist, who met with me every day. Towards the end of my time there, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “There’s a corner you haven’t turned yet. There is more you need to address, and we can’t do it here. You need extended time to heal. You should really consider a residential program.” I was completely taken aback. I hadn’t seen this coming. No one had ever mentioned this before, nor did I even realize that there was such a thing as a residential program for depression where you could actually take extended time away from your life to deal with mental illness. Of course, before this year I had no reason to know such a thing existed, for it certainly wasn’t anything I had needed before, nor has anyone I know ever been to such a place.

My first instinct was to dismiss his suggestion, and I said as much. There was no way I could leave my family for any longer than I already had. There was no way I could ask my husband to bear the full weight of household responsibilities. But then the therapist spoke the obvious: “If you were dead, he’d be taking care of it all, all of the time. Don’t you think he’d rather do it for 30 days instead of the rest of his life?” Though I resisted for a couple of days, after praying and talking it over with Stephen, we made the decision for me to pursue residential treatment. I had tried so many other things to little avail; what if what I needed was something big and drastic? After many tears and a lot of phone calls, I was connected with someone from a program much farther away than I had imagined going: Chicago. Timberline Knolls (TK) supposedly had a good reputation, though, and since I knew I wouldn’t be getting a lot of visitors no matter where I ended up because visiting time is so limited at these kinds of places, I decided it made little difference whether I was two hours away or eight hours a way. A representative from TK did a very detailed, somewhat intrusive phone screening with me (asking me such questions as what medications I take, how often I have suicidal thoughts, what, if any plan I had, etc.) and then told me I was cleared to receive treatment there, and they could accept me as soon as I was able to get there. This all happened on a Friday, and we decided that my parents would drive me part of the way on Monday and finish up the trip on Tuesday, when I would be admitted. 

When I first arrived at TK, I was terrified. My mom and dad waited with me while I went through pre-admission screenings and answered questions I had already answered several times over. At one point I just laid my head on my mom’s shoulder and cried. I felt lost and scared. I couldn’t believe this was my reality. I had left my husband and my girls hundreds of miles away, all because life was too much for me to handle. I felt like a failure and a burden. I remember pleading with the Lord for this to make a difference, for the time not to be wasted, for me to have a renewed appreciation for life. 

After several hours, I was led to the place where I would spend the next four weeks: Willow Lodge. One of the other residents gave me a tour of the facility, which helped me feel a little more comfortable. The lodge is basically a huge house, with several bedrooms that housed anywhere from 2-4 residents. It had a small kitchen where we had our snacks (and where some residents who were not permitted off lodge ate all their meals), a common area called the milieu, and three group rooms where group therapy was held. There was also a medical area (essentially a closet) where nurses dispensed medications three times a day. I feel like I spent more time waiting in line for my medications than anything else!   

I was assigned to a room with two other women, and the following day a third woman was added, bringing my room to full capacity at four. I was really anxious about living with other people, but I was fortunate to have roommates who were easy to get along with and who did not cause drama. We each had a twin bed and a chest of drawers and a small open closet to hang up some clothes, and we had a display board where we could hang up pictures or other mementos. One of my friends had taken the time to make several printouts of various Scriptures and put them on pretty scrapbook paper, so I was able to rotate through these the whole time I was gone. It was a simple gesture that made living in an unfamiliar place a little more bearable, and I was so grateful for it. 

The first night I was there was a blur. I wrote in my journal, begging God to be near and asking Him to deliver me from darkness and restore to me the joy of my salvation. I didn’t know how He would do it, but I prayed that being at TK was setting me on the path to get there.

To be continued…

The Hard Fight

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I am not sure of the origin of this quote, but it describes my life right now. If I’m being honest, everything feels hard right now. This time last week I was  in an inpatient mental health facility because things had gotten so bad that I thought almost daily about ending my life. I even had a plan that I didn’t realize was so specific and actionable until I voiced it to my therapist during an appointment that was a true provision from the Lord, since I originally wasn’t even supposed to meet with him that day, but was able to because he had an unexpected opening in his schedule. Thanks to the Lord and my therapist’s intervention, I did not act on my plan but instead checked myself into Lakeside in Memphis last Tuesday. Admitting to the people in my life that I was there was incredibly hard, and I have battled a lot of shame and guilt about this. But it truly was what needed to happen, and I left Lakeside feeling better than when I entered. I had a lot of time there to focus on myself, and I learned some valuable lessons and processed some hard things. 

However, none of that fixed me. I still came home with depression. The only difference is that now I want to live, whereas before I was ready to give up. I was tired of fighting all the negative, intrusive thoughts swirling around in my head. I was tired of trying to fake it through the day. I was tired of feeling alone in my pain. I was tired, full stop. But when people are tired, they rest; they don’t give up on life. I am so thankful that I didn’t give up. 

One thing I realized while I was gone is that despite all my thoughts to the contrary, a lot of people love me. When I let my family and close friends and some people at church know about the situation, not once did anyone act with anything other than love, support, and care for me. I don’t know why this surprised me since I surround myself with awesome people, but I had believed the lie that I was alone and unloved for far too long. I found myself overcome and humbled by all the love being poured out on me, all the prayers being prayed for me. I realized that, as my pastor told me, people are with me and for me. What a blessing that has been to me!

This week my husband gave me a small gift. It’s a squishy boxing glove, and he got it so I will remember to keep fighting and never give up. It’s also a reminder that I am not alone and that I am loved.IMG_3783

The boxing glove is also a reminder that I need to choose my hard. Living with depression is hard. I don’t know when this cloud will lift. Everything requires tons of mental energy, and I am exhausted by the end of the day. Then I learned at Lakeside that I need to change a lot of things in order to help improve my mental health: my thought patterns, my coping mechanisms, my sleeping and eating habits. Add to that adjusting to new medications and just living life, and all of it feels completely overwhelming and hard, and I know it will be. But as hard as all the change will be, it will not be harder than how I have been living. I resisted going to Lakeside initially because I didn’t want to put my family through that and I didn’t know what it would be like, but I also realized that my family would rather me be gone for a week instead of being gone for the rest of their lives. Then going to Lakeside didn’t seem quite as hard (although it in fact was one of the most difficult things I have ever done). Learning to change will require work and diligence, but I know that by choosing this hard thing I will hopefully one day lay aside the other hard thing—depression. It may be hard, but hard is not impossible. I will keep telling myself this, day after day, moment by moment, choice by choice, until I believe it.

I told my therapist that he saved my life, and I truly believe that. I also believe that it was no coincidence that I got that therapy appointment when I did. No, that was an act of the God who loves me and sees me and cares for me, even when I think He is far away. He marks all of my tears and keeps them in a bottle (Psalm 556:8). He will not restrain his mercy from me but will preserve me with His steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 40:11). 

I don’t know why I have to walk this road, but I hope that the Lord will redeem this struggle and use it for His good and His glory. The story is still being written, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. If you are reading this and relate to it but don’t know what to do, please reach out. Don’t be silent. Don’t give up. Fight the hard fight.